Pakistan air force claimed it shot down two Indian warplanes on Wednesday along a tense border in the disputed province of Kashmir in a potentially major escalation of hostilities between the nuclear-armed neighbors and rivals.
Pakistan said it captured the two Indian pilots after their plane crashed, one in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir. The other in an Indian-controlled section.
The dramatic escalation came after Pakistan said that mortar shells fired by Indian troops from across the frontier dividing Kashmir’s two sectors – known as the “line of control” – killed six civilians and wounded several others.
Kashmir is a Himalayan region sandwiched between India to the south, Pakistan to the west and north, and China to the northeast. Two out of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since both countries gained independence from Britain in 1947 have been over Kashmir. It is split between both nations but claimed, entirely, by both.
Pakistan denied reports that one of its planes was also shot down. India confirmed the loss of an MiG21 fighter jet, but said it was still investigating the claim its pilots had been captured. It wasn’t immediately clear if the incident led to any casualties.
Increased tension between India and Pakistan erupted earlier this month after a Pakistani national, Jaish-e-Mohammad, claimed responsibility for a Feb. 14 suicide bombing of a convoy of India’s paramilitary forces in the Indian portion of Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops. Pakistan said it was not involved in the attack.
India and Pakistan frequently have border skirmishes related to Kashmir, but political scientists have long speculated that the area is one of the most likely places in the world for a nuclear war to break out. Each country has a few hundred nuclear bombs.
The incident comes as President Donald Trumps hold a summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un this week aimed at denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is in Vietnam, released a statement Wednesday urging both countries to “exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost.”
Image: Kashmiri villagers gather to look at the wreckage of an Indian aircraft after it crashed in Budgam area, outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, Feb.27, 2019